Simulation’s Purpose in Product Development

March 23, 2023 Krystian Link

We have a mix of customers who are trying to build a simulation organization from scratch, expand the capabilities they already have, or are intimately familiar with the tools and the benefits they provide. While they may know simulation’s purpose in their organization, many other stakeholders are unsure what to do with the simulation team or its capability with respect to the current product development (PD) cycle. In this article, I’ll spend some time discussing where simulation can reside in the PD cycle as well as the engineering input it provides into the product design, release, and launch process.

A Front-End Solution to Down-the-Road Problems

Does anyone enjoy their product failing physical testing repeatedly and introducing irreparable scope creep into the launch schedule? Me neither. While analysis can do triage work in these scenarios (i.e., identify the type/area/potential root cause of failure), it is not optimal for engineering or the program teams launching the product.

Simulation’s largest benefit is working in the digital environment, where there are no prototype costs, lab test cells to run, and overhead costs except for one simulation engineer and your simulation products. If the product breaks or overheats in the digital environment, no problem. The simulation team can work with the design engineering team to vet out solutions in CAD long before ever paying for or cutting production tooling.

This approach, assuming adequate time is provided in the program scope for idea generation, allows the design team to not only narrow their design options in a low-cost environment, but potentially optimize a single design that can be released with confidence and minimal risk into production.

The Canary in the Design Coal Mine

When simulation is incorporated into the design process early and often, simulation engineers are in the perfect situation to see design “behaviors” and trends in the product pipeline. By nature of the role, simulation engineers typically work on a variety of products and/or product lines.  They are able to develop tribal knowledge on what works and what doesn’t in terms of product design.

This manifests itself in the backend/pre-launch phase of product design when they are supporting physical testing in terms of data correlation or failure analysis.  As the months and years tick by, these engineers become invaluable resources to your organization, particularly in the design review meetings.  Simulation needs a seat at that table because of all of this historical expertise. In some cases, design engineering teams can become less focused on the quality of the design in favor of launching a not fully-vetted product due to metrics. 

Simulation teams are the first line of defense for protecting the product from reaching physical testing in what could be considered an incomplete or “go fast” design state. When caught during these design reviews, program teams and engineers still have time to pivot and seek design alternatives. If flags are raised early, and nothing is done to address the problem, launch timing, revenue, and warranty claims are at stake.

It’s a Support Role, But Should Simulation Play a Lead in Design Reviews?

In some organizations, there is temptation to relegate engineering simulation teams to the sidelines when the major design decisions need to be made, in part because what they allegedly provide is “theoretical”, “not real data”, or “inaccurate”. These comments stem from an organization (or person in the organization) that has either:

  1. Had a bad experience with simulation,
  2. underfunded the development of a simulation group,
  3. or came from a physical test-heavy background. 

The fact is, when simulation is properly funded and talent properly developed (as referenced in my previous article), these comments really don’t apply.  So, if simulation is in fact actual data rather than fake data, and accurate versus inaccurate, the simulation team should have just as much stake in the design as physical test/validation teams.  As such, your simulation team should be front-and-center during design reviews to provide not only design guidance, but also trusted to raise concerns in the interest of protecting product robustness.

About the Author

Krystian Link

Krystian is a CFD application engineer at RandSim with over 10 years of product development experience in the automotive and manufacturing industries. His simulation experience focuses on vehicle thermal management, external aerodynamics simulations, and HVAC systems, including a publication in SAE’s Journal of Commercial Vehicles ("CFD Windshield Deicing Simulations for Commercial Vehicle Applications"). After completing his MBA at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, Krystian became even more passionate about building and implementing strategic solutions that not only address customers’ simulation needs, but also their business goals.

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